Having not had a day off for 2 weeks at the stud, I was given a whole weekend off at the beginning of February! Determined to do something useful with it, and to get out of the sleepy village of Matakana, I decided to head into Auckland.
On the Saturday I took a day trip down to the Waitomo Caves (over 300 shafts and underground cave systems and streams) which are about 3hrs south of Auckland. Enroute to Waitomo we stopped off at Mount Eden which is the highest volcanic cone in the Auckland area (Auckland has 48 volcanos). You can get a great view of Auckland from Mount Eden, and can look down into the volcano's crater. From Mount Eden we also got a glimpse of One Tree Hill which is a distinctive bald hill that until recently had a lone pine tree standing on top of it. And did you know that U2 named one of their songs after this - the Joshua Tree, was named in memory of one of their crew who died whilst they were on tour in Auckland many years ago!
After a spot of breakfast we set off on our way to the Waitomo caves. My main reason for visiting these caves was to see the legendary glow worms that live in the caves, and also to have a go at some of the adrenelin rush activities (abseiling, canyoning, rock climbing, cave tubing) which are on offer. I took the 'Magic Bus' backpacker tour down there which enabled me to make a few friends enroute down to the caves. Once here because of the time taken to get there we only had a few hours before the bus left for Auckland, so we got on with the activities straight away! Unfortunately only having a few hrs there wasn't long enough to do some of the activities as they required at least 4 hrs, so we ended up doing cave tubing, but always the first to try something new I thought why not. Cave tubing involves you putting on a wetsuit, wellie boots, and a hard hat and head lamp - very attractive look! You are then taken down to the entrance of the caves and given an inflatable tyre. Having been warned about all the creepy crawlies and eels that live in the caves and underground streams, slightly nervous and anxious about what was in store for us, off we set underground. The whole activity was about 2hrs long and involved us floating down the streams through the underground caves, linked together by our feet in a long line. Not quite the adrenelin rush I was looking for, but the glow worms made up for that, they were amazing! The only way I can describe it is that its like floating down the 'Milky Way'- in the dark, lying on your back, looking up at the roofs of the caves and seeing millions of tiny lights glowing. The glow worms have luminescent organs which produce a sort of greenish light which attracts tiny insects (their prey)! An incredible and surreal experience!
That night, having teamed up with a bunch of backpackers from my dorm, we decided to hit the town, and our first port of call was 'Minus 5' which is a bar where the interior is completely made of ice - the actual bar, the glasses that you drink out of, and the chairs are all made from frozen water!! Then around the room are lots of ice statues! I believe there is one of these bars in London now? I just missed the opening of the one in Sydney last year so at last got to see what all the fuss was about! When you arrive you are given a thick hooded coat and a pair of gloves and are told that you are only allowed 25mins in the bar and then you have to come out. Well it is minus 5 (or actually -6.6' as the temp reading said) so I suppose you wouldn't want much longer in there, 25 mins was enough!
On the Sunday, after checking out of my hostel, I set off for the harbour where I caught a ferry over to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is Auckland's largest and youngest volcano. It erupted from the sea 600 years ago, and was active for several years but is now believed to be extinct. I just hoped it stayed that way whilst I tried to climb it that day!
The ferry ride to Rangitoto is only 15mins from Auckland. I started reasonably early to get the climb in before it got too hot! The walk up to the summit was fairly straight forward and a relatively easy 30min climb which got slightly more challenging towards the top when you had to clamber over bits of molten lava. Once at the summit you could have a look at the slightly overgrown crater, the reminiscents of the last eruption. Also the view back over Auckland is quite picturesque on a clear day. Auckland in many ways if very similar to Sydney with its Sky Tower, harbour bridge, and harbour front activity, but for me, I just feel it lacks a bit of character. After a break at the top of the summit, it was time to catch the ferry back to Auckland to then the bus back to Matakana.
A nice horse free weekend!